Transcript of the conversation
Edited by Janet Leduc for Heritage Vancouver
Introductions and interests
I have been working with Janet Leduc and the Heritage Vancouver community for several years. Over that time the organization has moved from a small group of concerned citizens working for the community to prevent demolition to working with the community on the idea of creating a future for our heritage.
Heritage Vancouver is now moving to the idea of working as a community to increase understanding and appreciation for our community heritage, identify opportunities to protect, care for, and increase the contribution and value of our heritage resources, and contribute to creating a heritage for our future
Our interest is to explore how we can work as a community around creating a future for the Strathcona neighnourhood and our heritage resource connecting us with the beginnings of historic old Vancouver and our City.
Heritage Vancouver invited this group to begin the conversation as community contributors who have demonstrated an interest in our heritage resources and who lead or represent communities of interest who could contribute to the conversation and our common enterprise.
This is an opportunity to explore how we can work as a community around other common community interests related to creating a future for our neighbourhood.
We can begin by introducing ourselves and our interests, then contribute our observations, interests, and ideas related to the questions we are exploring, and conclude with our conversation about how we keep the conversation and our common enterprise growing.
I like to think of myself as a child of Strathcona and Vancouver. I grew up in the 600 Block of Keefer St and my father worked in Chinatown. I spent a lot of time in Gastown, Chinatown and the library and museum at Main and Hastings. Today I am working as the CEO for Building Opportunities with Business-Inner City Society which focuses on Economic Development that is sustainable and inclusive of businesses and residents. We work to save this neighbourhood and it is important that do we what we can to save other heritage areas. I am fighting to take down the Georgia Viaduct.
I was Director of Planning with the City of Vancouver until 1989 and then I became a planning consultant. As Director in the late 70s, I was responsible for doing the first plan for the Downtown Eastside and my interest has remained in seeing how much better or worse things are getting since the plan was created. About a couple of years ago I thought it was becoming worse, so I volunteered with Building Communities Society, a group of people who were trying to be helpful, which as you can imagine is a delicate operation if you don’t live in the area.
I’m with the Strathcona Business Improvement Association. Obviously we have a stake and a point of view about how this area develops especially Hastings Street and the industrial lands.
I am a resident of Strathcona and was involved with the successful Save the Heatley Block campaign.
I, along with many of my neighbours fought hard to save the Heatley Block. I developed a taste for saving buildings and have a strong belief that we have to work really hard and be strong and cohesive in our vision of protecting the buildings north of Hastings. We have to make sure that Hasting Street develops in an interesting way that is beneficial to the community. I would like to see something really beautiful that we can all agree on that doesn’t involve tearing down the existing heritage buildings on Hastings
I am the new Executive Director of the Eastside Cultural Crawl. I am interested in speaking for the Crawl
For the past 10 years I have been trying to support myself researching the history of old houses. To date I have researched 800 houses in Vancouver, 300 of which are in Strathcona. I have lived in this neighbourhood since 2000, I love this neighbourhood and its history, and I am a passionate east ender. This neighbourhood totally bewitches and takes over people that move here. People don’t move here to change the neighbourhood people get changed by it. I love Strathcona’s diversity. People from different backgrounds are a huge part of the identity of this neighbourhood. I give walking tours of the northern part of Strathcona. Recently a historian who lives in an SRO in the neighbourhood tagged along on one of my tours and had all sorts of questions and information to offer. This is fantastic because my goal is to get residents and stakeholders to appreciate the neighbourhood, its history and heritage, and invest in it. We have resources in Strathcona that everyone can benefit from not just people in a certain income bracket.
I am Chair of the board of the Japanese Language School and Japanese Hall. I also work at Carnegie Centre, Oppenheimer Park and have been a resident of Strathcona for a year. The Language School is over 100 years old and we are currently renovating the 1928 heritage building and putting in a childcare facility. As an organization we have been involved with the Japantown Revitalization Committee and are examining how we can restore and retain make Japantown more actively Japanese Canadian. We have been working with the Powell Street Festival Society who would like to have a place on Powell Street. Historically this neighbourhood has been a working class, ethnically diverse neighbourhood and that is the character that is really important for me.
I have lived in this area for over 20 years and I worry that the northern part of Strathcona is slowly eroding. I would like to preserve what’s there and bring back some of the things that have disappeared.
I am Chair of Heritage Vancouver’s Advocacy committee. One of our jobs is to develop the annual Top Ten Endangered list and North of Hastings is number 5 this year. I have been advocating for heritage conservation for 50 years, half of that in Vancouver.
I was born in Vancouver and was on the waterfront when it was an active place for fish boats and the maritime community. I came to work in Vancouver’s skid row in 1969 and was involved in an intervention process that helped people transition from skid row to Gastown. I have worked and lived in Strathcona and now live in Chinatown. I think what we have in North Strathcona is an area that could be a demonstration to other North American Cities as to what the ideal community might be. The neighbourhood has all the characteristics we read in planning literature to create a model community but we need a very sensitive zoning law to make that possible.
I have been a resident of Strathcona for 6 years and my partner and I bought and restored a dilapidated home on Dunlevy Avenue. I work as a project manager with Allan Diamond Architects. I am a member of the Strathcona Residents Association and am on the zoning committee that examines conditional applications made under the RT3 by-law. My overarching interests are land use and land use pressures. Sitting on the committee gives me insight into this on a small scale, site-by-site basis.
I have an interest in improving our ability to create community around our common human interests and I have been involved over the past few years developing a communication system, a process, and a way of doing things to make creative community enterprise possible
Observations and Ideas
The character of the community consists of its diversity, its heritage elements, the waterfront, and the port. This is an immigrant reception community where people pass through and it is also a mixed-use community.
The zoning is currently under review and we need to engage in this review process and develop a list of characteristics and qualities of the neighbourhood that people in the community want to preserve. The walk north to the port along Dunlevy from the community centre is a good route to try and mark.
It is important to preserve the community services, the social networks, and the physical and cultural aspects of the neighbourhood.
Strathcona is unique. It has terrific individual buildings and heritage architecture and it is this collection of buildings and the unusual relationships between them that makes Strathcona so significant and unique.
Good planning comes from understanding what it is we are dealing with before we start messing around with it. What we are dealing with is the social, environmental, and economic history of Strathcona that is phenomenal, special and delicate.
We have been collecting all the ideas over the past 15 years about what various elements of the community have been saying and when we look at them, there is a lot of commonality and just one or two areas where they differ significantly.
Community dialogue is one of the solutions and a way to get the majority of people together. When we have developed the community sufficiently people will begin to recognize that the people around the table are trying to find a way to measure what is valuable and do the things that emphasize and add to that value.
We get caught up in the details and when we look at the principles that we are trying to achieve generally there is a lot of alignment amongst the different stakeholders, there is a lot of value to that approach.
It is really critical that the heritage elements are retained as best as possible to reflect the character of the neighbourhood and keep the thread of Strathcona’s history.
We have instances where realtors begged us to talk to the city to assist businesses to set up on Hastings Street. Many businesses wouldn’t touch Hastings because of a lack of street presence, not many people walking on the street and not much density in the residential areas. If we want to have more of a business presence or attract new businesses we have to make Hastings more than a drive through to downtown.
There is a tendency to want to create a grand plan that encompasses the whole area and comes up with solutions for all the problems of this particular neighbourhood. The difficulty is that this neighbourhood developed piece by piece, individual things just happened, it was an ambiguous, natural kind of evolution. Even trying to maintain this approach in a systematic manner is bound to fail because you are trying to do a blanket solution for everything including the way social, physical, cultural or economic groups interact. One of the approaches is to set up a framework where you just allow things to develop and happen naturally rather than try to impose order in developments. Because of current city requirements owners and developers have to buy several lots resulting in large-scale projects. You are forced to tear down a heritage building in the middle of a block, if you want to create a new commercial space. These requirements, w are imposing homogeneity and one solution on the neighbourhood.
There are many ideas that would encourage smaller development, the city could; reduce the amount of loading space to one loading area per block, reduce the amount of parking requirements in a community where everyone walks, and eliminate the requirement for elevators in small scale buildings. If restrictions from a monetary and physical point of view disappeared building owners would be able to develop a commercial enterprise in a single building, preserve the heritage buildings and create street presence in the form of a gallery or drop in centre or something else. Transformation of the neighobourhood could start happening on a small scale. On Hastings there is such a high cost involved in meeting city requirements that people are not going to take the risk. With one comprehensive plan it will become much more difficult for people who live in the neighbouhood to be able to do anything.
My biggest concern in terms of the city’s rezoning is scale. I am worried that the city will want to put in tall buildings that are not in keeping with the existing character of the 4 story heritage buildings along Hastings Street.
In many big cities there is consistency in scale in the really charming neighbourhoods. We want to keep this scale along Hastings so it doesn’t become a causeway or the way to somewhere else. We want it to stay small scale, cozy and attractive. Maybe we need to create a community voice to talk about incentives for people to open galleries or projects that are in keeping with the existing character of the neighbourhood.
In the area north of Hastings, if heritage buildings are to be retained, respected and celebrated it is important that they not be next to a 20-story tower. It would be great to see a mix of housing in the area North of Strathcona. Maybe we use European communities that have used green housing, light industry neighbourhoods as a model.
Diversity is one of the characteristics of this community. This community creates space and new things in their neighbourhood. I am amazed at how many people and businesses support the Cultural Crawl. Whatever we decide to do it has to be more of the same. We need to maintain diversity and space for organizations in order to maintain this dynamic presence in the neighbourhood.
In this neighbourhood diversity is very important. It blows me away when I do my work looking at these small, very humble houses, just what rich history there is. When I talk about history it is not in an abstract sense and when I talk about the houses and the heritage value of the small houses, it is not the buildings per se, it is the human history that was there. It is made up of people who came with nothing, who faced huge social and economic hurdles, they struggled and worked together, collaborated and thrived. Some stories are not so happy. It is identification with these people’s struggles that are associated with that heritage that makes me want to fight for them especially North of Hastings because that is the oldest part of the east end. It is what the little houses mean, the context and the human history that is so important.
It is important for residents and stakeholder to appreciate the value of the heritage and invest in it and stop the area from being bulldozed and taken away from us.
The house we are living in used to be owned by an Italian family and then a Chinese family. The whole neighbourhood has history. In pre-war Japantown people were trying to leave the neighbourhood, it has always been fairly transient and people aspired to move out. It was the centre of commercial and social activities and was very working class. Now there is a lot of social housing in the area and these people need accessible retail and social spaces.
We need to take a grassroots approach to fostering and nurturing small businesses that meet the needs of our community rather than letting the city decide for us. We need to come together as a community and make it happen.
I have been on Gastown Heritage Area Planning Committee for nearly 10 years and am currently the chair. Institutional memory around the table is deeper and more powerful than at the city. Woodwards completely overwhelms the Historic Areas and we want to achieve, intimacy, a certain amount of anarchy and community in the Strathcona neighbourhood. The areas of commonality may be the way of cutting into the planning process.
Strathcona is the most mixed area in the entire city and we can’t create what’s here ever again. The area is fragile, we don’t need a plan we need a framework and we need to capture the human history It is important to know if the city is going to turn this into a social services precinct. I think this is the only area in city of Vancouver where we are not required to put retail on ground floor. If business people want to expand, they need to have 2 units of social housing. It has been on the books for 10 or 12 years and has not created one unit of housing, it should be removed.
The literature coming out of many American cities says there is a limit to how many very sick people, both addicted and mentally ill you can put in one building If there are more than 30 sick people the volume of violence explodes. In Las Angeles they have had to take people out and abandon buildings that were too large. The Port is our saving grace, it is large and it is not going to move. The perimeter is very well set the warehouses are on the perimeter along Water and Alexander Streets and go right up to Seymour. The industrial, manufacturing and business should stay. We need an inventory of all those buildings. We could agree on a framework, we don’t need a plan.
A few words keep coming to me. One was about scale and another was the inconvenience of the idiosyncrasy in which we live or in the organizations we are representing. I think that something that might be instructive for us is the concept of embracing complexity and start to understand that we have a resource that is not an impediment to a healthy, functional community. Instead that resource we occupy in these areas, that complexity may be a way forward for us.
Another word that kept coming to mind is speed and pace of change, slowing down of change, time for consideration and understanding, to give us time to think. My involvement on the zoning committee has made me recognize the process by which the Strathcona area zoning was developed in concert with the community members and city and came into effect about 20 years ago. It was very successful in addressing the complexity, inconvenience, the resource of people’s lives and the built environment that characterizes Strathcona. Turning the clock back further if RT3 zoning came into being 20 years ago you can bet that 20 years went into making that zoning possible. A slow rate of change is worth considering.
Incentives for land development come from the private sector and come down to economics. If it becomes land assembly, if it becomes the need for projects to be larger and larger to become viable, I question whether the project is viable at all. Maybe we are asking the wrong questions about how we use land. Slow rate of change is worth considering if we need projects to become bigger and bigger for the project to be viable. Our Zoning district in Strathcona addresses this by limiting land assembly. I think it has been an effective tool to retain our heritage resources and the lives lived in our community but also to enhance them and develop a character to our community in. Maybe that is something to think about, scale, speed, economic incentives whether or not they are reasonable and the inconvenience of our idiosyncrasies, which I think, is a resource
I have lived north of Hastings for 2 years and in Strathcona for 11 years. The last two years have been both distressing and potentially good. I see a lot of places still being built without any eyes on the street and without retail on the ground floor. I have to wonder where the city is going with the area, is it going to turn into residential or a social service precinct? Over the weekend another building near the Japanese Hall, the International Inn had its insides ripped out. All the doors, windows, columns and molding ended up in the dumpster. It was very distressing. There is a lot of social housing for hard to house concentrated in one small area and it doesn’t seem a good idea for anybody. I am not sure if there will be any room for any other market housing in the area. Each corner on my street has buildings for the hard to house on it, there is no diversity and all buildings worth preserving are becoming Single Room Occupancy housing with the character stripped out.
I talked about preserving social fabrics, social relationship and social networks. These are the soft things you need to preserve in addition to the hard stuff, whether it is small lot development, inventory of heritage of buildings, or stories of the community.
We have observations about the qualities that make Strathcona a unique neighbourhood, concerns about how it will develop, and a few ideas we would like to put forward and work on. It is clear that the City’s Planning Department has limited resources and would appreciate and benefit from any ideas the community could contribute.
I want to talk about the relationships that take place between communities. When I was growing up it was important for my family to live here because you could walk to work, my mother worked in Gastown, my father worked in Chinatown, and it was easy to get to the main branch of the public library. You live and work in adjacent communities and participate in those kinds of activities where you don’t need a car, those were much greener values.
When you look at the industrial area, it is important to preserve mixed use within this community, this is how you get community building, each neighbourhood is dependent on one another. Chinatown had the workers and storekeepers who lived there, Gastown had factory workers who lived there, Hogan’s Alley existed because of the train station and a lot of people worked in the food warehouses. This is a neighbourhood where people lived and worked and knew each other, those relationships are things that are lost in a bigger city.
I ask people in Strathcona where they shop. They shop on Commercial Drive rather than in Chinatown and many of the small stores no longer survive. We can talk about eyes on the street but if nobody shops in the stores they won’t survive. We end up with the concentration and we end up with equally powerful voices, speaking for the homeless, social housing providers and developers.
The planners at city hall want to ensure that False Creek Flats continues to provide employment for the people in the neighbourhood. It is important to preserve land use for activities that will generate employment and not just the highest and best use, where you have jobs only during construction and nothing afterwards. Restaurants, factories and farms employ people, housing doesn’t employ people once it is built.
The Downtown Eastside is pressed from a number of places. However much the people in the area wish for things to happen there are developers pushing very heavily, trying to find places to change to what they think is the ideal. At the other end there are bunch of people who are compressed and stranded in this area. We are seeking to assist and be gentle and generous and helpful to all people who live in our community and how they came here and where they will go afterward is dependent on principles and attitude we pursue when we are planning and the way we debate things when we are doing the planning. When you take an action you have taken a risk and it is important to monitor the actions. Our ability to monitor is limited by people’s desire to get active, get their development or business going without necessarily being aware of the impact on the community.
It is important to have an inventory so we know what we are doing. We need to understand the social fabric, to document housing, who lives where, and what happens when we develop things, how many agencies – how much are they spending and who is benefiting It is important to know the essence of the community, before we start fiddling with it. The strategy will be developed by city council and we need to tell them what we want.
When we are dealing with small scale issues like opening a store or starting a business in commercial spaces, we encounter an infrastructure at the City that is set up for larger scale projects.
If some of the obstacles could be removed to make it easier for people to initiate small scale projects it would help alleviate some of the big developer pressure on this community. Right now the only way things can happen and to make a project viable you need to have a lot of money. So we have a huge period of time when nothing happens.
We just need to look at what is happening on Hastings Street and we can see that the only people who have those kinds of resources are the institutions, housing providers, and social service agencies because it isn’t economically viable yet for private developers to take on the risk.
If we reduce the obstacles so someone who wants to open a little café can do so without all kinds of steps to go through, and if someone owns a shop that is completely paid off and wants to put a floor of apartments on it to provide low cost housing, that they could do so without the infrastructure costs. It means individuals who live here or who have just moved here can engage and participate and give something back to the community. If someone wanted to start a little coffee shop or start a small enterprise to employ people in the community it is very difficult, and we need some gentle slopes or ladders of opportunities for people who are marginalized in our community to connect with people who are more established.
We don’t have the ability to create these small stepping stones, whether it is creating some kind of space or business where we can create enterprise opportunities for people within the community because of the nature and cost of actually engaging in this kind of activity. It is not just building and planning permits but the other things that have to be done. So we end up with whole stretches of Hastings Street that are completely vacant because there is too much expenditure required and the only people with the money to risk are not from the community.
So the idea of getting eyes on the street and viable enterprises that serve the divergent interests of the neighbourhood and the people who live here are hampered by the whole process we have to go through. We need to do things so this community can continue to develop organically, – so if someone wanted to open a shop, they could open a shop without this whole process they had to go through, – and avoid the idea that in eight years or so, all these studies have been done and people outside the community suddenly have the idea that this is the solution. And we have to start fighting a rear guard action, as happened previously within in this community, to try and stop it. It is important to work out ways to mitigate that whole situation and set up a process where the planners and the City and the people with other interests in this community are forced to become part of the process or otherwise they will miss out.
The planning department are pressed and pushed by the development industry which, through the Urban Development Institute and other places, have all sorts of influence on politicians and affect City Hall a great deal.
So in the height study, the Urban Development Institute identified that Hastings Street has been demolished, particularly in the area affected by drugs, and all these properties are dying. How do we alter that with this organic stuff because the place has already been destroyed by government action that concentrated difficult people into this area. Now the poor difficult people who are in this area are faced with the pressure from big developers who are looking for economically feasible sites to develop who are under the pressure of the city planners asking them to put in up to 20% of social housing in order to justify their zoning and that develops the need to increase the zoning.
The model we have to be aware of is controlled by these forces and one of the most attractive forces is the local force of individuals trying to do their best in a system they are trying to understand, – not these bigger issues
I thought this meeting was primarily about finding common ground around our interest in preserving our heritage. This interest is obviously not mutually exclusive of the other community interests involved, and I like the idea of coming to a common understanding on these ideas, but we need to take some direct action soon. I think rezoning is looming and we need to have a strong cohesive voice, at least on scale, and business development, and heritage preservation, and we need to request or demand some specific zoning created for the area north of Hastings to preserve the heritage buildings there. I think this is one framework we can put into place and then our other community interests can be addressed. The rezoning is coming and I am concerned we are going to let this slip through our fingers being distracted by the social issues.
The historic area height review deliberately ignored the Strathcona area. One of the first things we need to do is ensure the area is recognized and designated as a heritage area and ensure that the heritage elements of this area, as a founding community for the City of Vancouver, be part of the review and taken into consideration in the rezoning, so we get the scale, and rule out the tower forms, and keep the warehouse forms, and not move to million dollar residential properties
We don’t have a good inventory. The Heritage Register is not in good shape. It has been taken out of the budget in the last three years. The City has applied to the Federal Government for money to revise the register but without Canadian Government financing it is unlikely to come to life and it is desperately needed.
In the Heritage Vancouver position paper on this area on the top ten this year there was a recommendation that the RT 3 zoning be extended to cover the north of Hastings area. What we did in the industrial area of Mount Pleasant 25 years ago was change the zoning to light industrial but with very specific provisions made for the retention of the existing housing stock that was non-conforming so people could get a permit to renovate or get insurance. That custom modification was put in place specifically to protect the housing stock, and it has been successful, and people have been able to get renovation permits. And because of the industrial and commercial nature in this area it might be easier and more effective to come up with some kind of custom modification to the existing zoning. Simply extending the RT3 zoning may not work.
The first thing we need is to get the inventory because there is more than simply housing here. We need to identify the value of the heritage in this area as a community. What are the contributions, – socially, economically, and environmentally, – and value to the community of what we have here that everyone, including the Urban Development Institute, can accept and that can create a modicum of compatibility for residents and business people
I have done a rudimentary inventory and it is available on my blog as a virtual walking tour of the forgotten east end. I think it is important to not only honour what is, but also what was, with the stories and historical markers that remind people of the history, and the people and events that created this community and came from this community in the beginnings of Vancouver.
Regarding zoning and our inventory heritage, if we could agree that the buildings themselves are a repository of stories, a physical manifestation, and a touchstone for us and worth saving, we could explore how we could address this with immediacy in some way that does not rely upon something as painstaking and difficult as establishing an inventory.
We agree that an inventory needs to be done but if we simply say that heritage, for the moment, is just the buildings, the physical manifestation, then RT3 zoning could, as a blunt instrument, say that anything built before 1920 is considered heritage and not rely upon whether a building is on the register or designated as a heritage property.
Continuing the Conversation
We have a number of ideas coming from this conversation. If we would like to continue the conversation, we should talk about is how we might do that.
We could engage the broader community to get some profile for the neighbourhood and the resources and opportunities we have to go forward with.
There is the City of Vancouver 125th Anniversary grants which can be applied for in February. The Strathcona Community Centre Society and several other community groups could apply for and administer the grants.
We could create a list of things that people who had the ability to do would agree to take on. We could start with a few ideas of things that could be done so people could see the opportunities there are to contribute to our community interests.
The idea of creating an inventory of our heritage resources is an initiative that could attract community interest and involvement. It would also make people more aware of the quality and nature of the heritage structures we have, increase our understanding of how they contribute to the character of the neighborhood, and excite interest in conversation about the future of the neighbourhood.
I think it also makes sense to start discussing some potential zoning changes. Are we going to have some kind of web site we could contribute to and communicate with one another where we could become familiar with our zoning and explore ideas about what we could do?
There is already a lot of information available that we don’t know about. People are not aware of what we have and we do not have a place where we can learn about our situation and explore opportunities and ideas.
We could also explore what could be done to assist small businesses to start an enterprise but we don’t have enough information about the challenges let alone any ideas about what we do about that.
We could tell the city we would like to restore the Strathcona Revitalization Committee which was the forum for discussions like this for many years
There are a lot of people in Vancouver who view the Strathcona neighbourhood as part of our larger community and community heritage. Getting our larger community involved and working as a community could create lots of ideas and opportunities to act on without applying and waiting for grants.
We could begin by continuing our conversation about the character and culture of the neighbourhood and explore ideas from our conversation to create a foundation for involving more people in the conversation to determine what we might do next. We could create opportunities for people to take on ideas that contribute to our interests either individually or as a community. We don’t need to ask anybody for anything.
Hastings is critical to the future of the neighbourhood so this could be an area where the Strathcona Business Improvement Association could play a leadership role.
There are eight or ten themes and ideas to explore and the more communities of interest we invite to participate in our conversation the more likely we are of finding the common ground and common interests we have as a community. We do not need to wait for the City Planning Department and the handful of people who are trying to do this off the side of their desk to bring forward a plan for the community to respond to. We have lots of ideas to start and broaden participation in the conversation.
There is an abundance of information in reports and observations and ideas from meetings like this stored on websites and tucked away in people’s offices that only a few people know about. Heritage Vancouver created a conversation about a year around creating a future for heritage in Old Vancouver to begin exploring ideas as a community about where we might go and what we could do to engage our community in the conversation.
There are a lot of people in Vancouver who view Strathcona as part of our larger community and part of our collective heritage. We need to have our community leaders involved enough that we don’t have to be applying for and relying on grants.
We have a website available so we could begin to gather what we know, determine our interests, and explore opportunities, possibilities, and ideas, and continue the conversation to determine initiatives we could act on to create a future for the neighbourhood.
How we continue the conversation and create community around our interests could become the focus of our next conversation.